Tuesday, July 21, 2009

North Korean refugees lead lives of hell in China

The real threat emanating from North Korea tracks back not to its missiles or nuclear stockpile per se, but to the malign character of Kim Jong Il's totalitarian regime horrifically displayed in the brutality with which he abuses his own captive citizenry of some 23 million North Koreans.

If President Obama wants to try something really different, one of the prime places Obama could turn for help is the wildly under-appreciated Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. One of HRNK's most spectacular products was a 2003 report on North Korea's "hidden gulag," by veteran human rights investigator and advocate David Hawk. Based on interviews with North Korean defectors, cross-checked as far as possible to filter out distortions and correlated with satellite photos of the areas they described, that report provided the most thorough and well-documented account to date of the network of slave labor and prison camps with which North Korea's government, in the style of Stalin, both helps itself to forced labor and ensures the terrorized obedience of its citizenry.

Other reports have followed, including accounts of the state-inflicted North Korean famine of the 1990s (in which an estimated 600,000 to 1 million or more people died, while food was rationed on the basis of loyalty to the regime); the North Korea refugee crisis (in which China treats all North Korean refugees as "illegal economic migrants" and, when they are caught, sends them back to the un-tender mercies of North Korea); and a well-reasoned call for the U.N Security Council to act in defense of human rights of North Korea.

Inside China, North Korean refugees of either sex are among the world's most abandoned people. China is signatory to the United Nations 1951 convention and 1967 protocol on refugees, but utterly ignores its resulting obligations to provide protection for North Koreans--all of whom, merely by entering China, are subject to a well-founded fear of persecution if sent back.

[Claudia Rosett, Forbes.com]

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